Albert Bandura


Albert Bandura is an American psychologist of Canadian origin, at the origin of social cognitive theory. He is known for his modeling study of aggression, called the « Bobo Doll » experiment, which demonstrated that children can learn behaviors through observation from adults.

After graduating from high school in 1946, Bandura earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of British Columbia in Canada. Thne, he worked at the University of Iowa, where he received a master’s degree in psychology (1951) and a doctorate in clinical psychology (1952).

In 1953 Bandura secured a position at Stanford University, becoming professor emeritus in 2010.

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory, proposed by Albert Bandura, emphasizes the importance of observing, modeling, and imitating the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional responses of others. Social learning theory considers how environmental and cognitive factors interact to influence human learning and behavior.

In social learning theory, Albert Bandura (1977) agrees with the behavioral theories of learning from classical conditioning and operant conditioning. However, he adds two important ideas:

  1. Mediation processes occur between stimuli and responses.
  2. Behavior is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning.

Observational learning

Children observe people around them behaving in different ways. This is illustrated during the famous Bobo doll experiment.

In 1961 Albert Bandura performed his famous Bobo Doll Experiment, a study in which researchers physically and verbally abused a clown-faced toy in front of preschoolers, leading the children to imitate later adult behavior in attacking the doll. Later experiments in which children were exposed to such violence on video generated similar results

In society, children are surrounded by many influential models, such as parents in the family, characters on children’s television, friends and teachers. These models provide examples of behavior to observe and imitate, for example, masculine and feminine, pro and antisocial, etc.

Children pay attention to some of these people (role models) and encode their behavior. Later, they can imitate the behavior they observed.

If a parent sees a little girl comforting her teddy bear and says « what a nice girl you are, » it is rewarding for the child and increases the likelihood that she will repeat the behavior. His behavior was reinforced.

Reinforcement can be external or internal and can be positive or negative. If a child wants approval from parents or peers, that approval is external reinforcement, but feeling happy about being approved is internal reinforcement. A child will behave in a way that he thinks will deserve approval because he desires approval. 

Positive (or negative) reinforcement will have little impact if the reinforcement offered externally does not match an individual’s needs. Reinforcement can be positive or negative, but the important factor is that it will usually result in a change in a person’s behavior.

The child will also consider what happens to others when deciding whether to copy someone’s actions. A person learns by observing the consequences of another person’s behavior. For example, a younger sister that observes an older sister being rewarded for a particular behavior is more likely to repeat that behavior herself.


The term identification as used by social learning theory is similar to the Freudian term related to the Odipe complex. For example, they both involve internalizing or adopting another person’s behavior. However, during the Odipus complex, the child can only identify with the same-sex parent, whereas with social learning theory, the person (child or adult) can potentially identify to any other person.

Identification is different from imitation as it can involve adopting a number of behaviors whereas imitation usually involves copying a single behavior.

Mediational process proposed by Albert Bandura

Speech therapy is often described as the « bridge » between traditional learning theory (i.e. behaviorism) and the cognitive approach. Indeed, it focuses on how cognitive factors are involved in learning.

Unlike  Skinner, Albert Bandura believes that humans think about relationship between their behavior and its consequences.

Observational learning could only occur if cognitive processes were at work. These mental factors intervene in the learning process to determine whether a new response is acquired.

Therefore, individuals do not automatically observe the behavior of a model and imitate it. There is a certain thought before imitation, and this consideration is called the process of mediation. This occurs between the observation of the behavior (stimulus) and its imitation or not (response)

There are four mediational processes proposed by Bandura:

  1. Attention  : The individual must pay attention to the behavior and its consequences and form a mental representation of the behavior. 
  2. Retention  : How well the behavior is remembered. It is therefore important that a memory of the behavior is formed to be executed later by the observer.
  3. Reproduction  : This is the ability to perform the behavior that the model has just demonstrated. We see a lot of daily behavior that we would like to be able to imitate but that is not always possible.
  4. Motivation  : The will to perform the behavior. The rewards and punishments that follow a behavior will be considered by the observer. If the perceived rewards outweigh the perceived costs (if any), then the behavior will be more likely to be imitated by the observer.

Source: McLeod, SA (2016, February 5). Bandura – social learning theory  . Just psychology.